BRYN MAWR, Pa. - Anybody watching the news recently has most likely seen coverage of the refugee crisis currently affecting the Middle East and Europe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 4.5 million refugees have emanated out of the country of Syria since 2011 due to the ongoing Syrian civil war. That astonishing and growing number has recently brought increased media and aid attention to the region, but that has also come at a cost. There are numerous ongoing refugee crises going on around the globe currently, and the increased response to the calamity in Syria has pulled aid and attention away from the rest of the refugees around the world.
That is the situation in which Bryn Mawr alum Lisa Klinman '12 and her organization, the American Refugee Committee, found themselves in last fall. Klinman works as part of the Gender Based Violence Project along the Thailand/Myanmar border. In that region, the ARC provides services to over 200,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants from Myanmar, most of whom are ethnic and religious minorities, in nine refugee camps. As a part of the Gender Based Violence Project, Lisa and her group help these refugees face one of the most challenging issues for populations affected by armed conflict.
"Sexual violence/rape is a well-known strategy of war in Myanmar," Klinman explained. "But other forms of GBV include domestic violence, forced and early marriage, and sexual exploitation. Women and children are most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, and abuse by virtue of their perceived gender roles and status."
With this context, the American Refugee Committee supports survivors and works to prevent acts of GBV through community education and awareness campaigns. Emergency healthcare, psychological counseling, legal assistance, and skills training and schooling are just a few examples of some of the specific services provided. "We partner with local and international organizations to ensure that survivors, their families, and their communities have access to essential services," stated Klinman. "The aim is to amplify marginalized voices from within the community – men, women, and children – to support positive social change."
Every year, the two camps Klinman spends most of her time working in host a massive soccer tournament coinciding with Karen Christmas. Historically, these festivities have limited participation to male camp residents, but the group that Klinman works with lobbied diligently for the right to participate as a mixed-gender team. "There is still a lot of stigma regarding women's participation in traditionally male activities such as sports, and we were hoping that our participation in this year's games would dismantle some of that stigma," explained Klinman. Ultimately, the "Community Peace Team" (the self-selected team name) was granted permission to participate as a mixed-gender squad. "The team will use this platform to speak about gender equality, gender-based violence prevention and response, awareness of sexual and gender minority rights, and how women's participation in sports strengthens rather than harms the community," explained Klinman.
However, there was one final roadblock to participation for Klinman's group – a lack of uniforms. Klinman was able to raise most of the funding necessary through external fundraising initiatives, but found it difficult to garner community support for the mixed-gender team. With the tournament approaching, the Community Peace Team was short 18 uniforms for their team members. That's where the Bryn Mawr soccer team stepped in.
"Lisa reached out to the captains of our team via e-mail and let us know about the work she was doing for the American Refugee Committee," Bryn Mawr soccer co-captain Hannah Broderick explained. "She asked us if we could help raise money so that her mixed gender team could participate in a tournament that had been traditionally limited to just men." Fellow captains Veronica Roux and Nina Bertolami joined Broderick in being immediately interested the opportunity. "When we first heard about it I think we were all pretty excited to help," Roux stated enthusiastically. "It was a unique opportunity for us to reach out and extend beyond the local community and be a part of something bigger. Once we brought it to (Owls head coach) DeMarco and the rest of the team, they were all just as enthusiastic about the prospect."
Right off of the bat, there was an immediate idea for a fundraising opportunity, as Bertolami explained. "We had already talked about doing a futsal (indoor soccer) tournament before Lisa even reached out to us, so we thought that would be a great way to raise money." Broderick went on: "We sent out invitations to people in the Bi-Co community and we got an overwhelmingly good response, enough to have nine teams in the tournament." The tournament ended up being a huge success for all involved. "We raised even more money than we had expected," Roux exclaimed. "Not only that, but we were all impressed by how quickly we were able to put the tournament together and work towards this common goal on our own as a team." For these Owls, the goal is to make this futsal tournament an annual event in the future, expanding the fundraising and outreach to other alums and organizations around the world.
"There is a mutual respect within Bryn Mawr's broader community and Lisa provided a way for our team to support ARC's efforts," Owls head soccer coach Erin DeMarco summarized. "Given the opportunity, the captains and team organized the tournament and made it a success. This collaboration demonstrates the importance of shared experiences for our students at Bryn Mawr and the meaningful relationships we can have with alumnae."
As for the Community Peace Team, while they may not have won the soccer tournament, thanks to the uniforms provided by the Bryn Mawr soccer team, they certainly looked good in their efforts. What is more, they were able to have a positive impact in their own community by continuing to promote gender equity and violence prevention through participation in "the beautiful game."